- historical event: Field Marshal von Kleist was one of Hitler’s most important commanders on the Eastern Front. After World War II he ended up in the notorious prison in the city of Vladimir, between Moscow and the Urals (the largest prison in Russia). He died there on this day in 1954.
On this day in 1954 German Field Marshal Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist died in captivity in the Soviet Union. He was the highest-ranking military commander of Nazi Germany in World War II who died in Soviet captivity. He died in the infamous Vladimir Prison (Vladimirskij central), the largest prison in Russia. This prison is located in the city of Vladimir, about 100 km from Moscow, towards the Urals. Many famous prisoners were in that prison, such as American pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down when he flew over the USSR in a U-2 spy plane.
Field Marshal von Kleist was born in an esteemed German noble family. As a young man he served in the respectable Hussar Cavalry, known for its flashy uniforms with braids. He became a general between the two wars. In World War II he commanded units during the invasions of Poland, France, Yugoslavia, Greece, and the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa).
In 1942 Hitler gave Von Kleist command over the army group that was supposed to take over the Caucasus and secure the oil fields near Baku, in the extreme south of the Eastern Front (it was the called Army Group A). However, when there was heavy fighting at Stalingrad, von Kleist ordered the retreat of the German 8th Army, because of the possibility that the Red Army would destroy it. This withdrawal was contrary to Hitler’s orders, and Von Kleist was relieved of his command. Indeed, almost an entire army (the 6th) was later trapped and destroyed by the Soviets at Stalingrad.
The Americans arrested Field Marshal von Kleist in 1945 and extradited him to Yugoslavia. From there he was extradited to the USSR in 1948, where he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He did not live to serve his sentence, because he died on this day in 1954, at the age of 74.